Religious beliefs are a kind of play

Songkran festival - Religious beliefs are playOne of the most important questions in the cognitive science of religion is, “Why do people believe in God or gods?” It seems to boggle the mind: how on earth can people seriously believe propositions that lack any concrete evidence? After all, we believe in chairs and dachshunds because those things obviously exist. We can see them, touch them, hear them. There’s no equivalent evidence for the resurrected Christ or an all-powerful God. But one philosopher of cognition, Neil Van Leeuwen, argues that this difference actually means that religious beliefs are different from normal beliefs. In fact, they’re a lot more like play. [Read more…]

Religion builds self-control and excludes outsiders – simultaneously

Connor Wood

Two Muslim men praying

Religion sure seems to care a lot about self-control. From the Ten Commandments to Shariah law to rule-bound Zen monasticism, most religious communities impose tremendous restrictions on their members. (Not for them the wide-open ethos of “If it feels good, do it.”) Yet despite their dreary-seeming, duty-oriented value systems, religious adherents tend to be slightly happier and longer-lived than their nonreligious peers. What gives? In a new paper, I spend a lot of pages arguing that religious constraints on behavior and elevated personal well-being are actually inextricable from one another, because following all those rules builds self-control – one of the best predictors of life outcomes. The catch? The very practices that build self-control are the same tools religions use to discriminate against outsiders. [Read more…]

Religion makes cooperation a winning strategy

Connor Wood

FirewalkingHuman life depends absolutely on cooperation. Unlike other animals, we don’t have big fangs, sharp claws, or leather-thick hides. Instead, we have our ability to work efficiently with each other. In modern industrial civilization, we take this flair for cooperation to the next level, depending each day on thousands of strangers to bring food to our cities, keep the roads clean, and mine coal to power our homes. And it just might be religion that makes this all possible.

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